BURLINGTON, Vt. – Spurred by a three-goal second period, Minnesota beat Vermont 5-1 in its first game ever at Gutterson Fieldhouse and its first regular-season game out east since 2005. Seth Ambroz gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead 7:52 into the game when he cut to the middle from the right side and slid a backhander past Brody Hoffman (30 saves). The Catamounts (2-6-2) tied it with 4:34 left in the first when Matt White found Brett Bruneteau alone at the top of the crease, but the Gophers retook the lead three minutes later when Kyle Rau capitalized on a Vermont turnover at the side of the net.
Minnesota (8-2-2) put the game out of reach with three straight goals in the second. Zach Budish scored on the power play 2:26 in when he pulled the puck out of a scrum in front and fired past a down-and-out Hoffman. Ten minutes later, Nick Bjugstad scored on a breakaway just after exiting the penalty box. Mike Reilly made it 5-1 when he beat Hoffman with a shot through traffic for his first career goal. Adam Wilcox stopped 22 of 23 Vermont shots to improve to 7-1-2 on the season.
What I saw
-Vermont handed the Gophers their second goal. The puck was sitting on the back of the Vermont net, but instead of letting it stay there and taking the whistle, Nick Bruneteau decided to knock the puck off and try to play it. The plan blew up in his face, as the puck bounced right to Rau on the doorstep. Before Hoffman even realized what was happening, Rau had already whacked the puck past him.
-The Gophers outshot Vermont 17-5 in the second period and just completely took control of the game. They registered eight shots from the grade-A area, compared to just one for Vermont. It seemed like the only time the puck was in the Minnesota end was when Vermont was on the power play. But the Gophers even found a way to turn the tables then, as Bjugstad scored just seconds after leaving the box. The Gophers have been inconsistent at times this season and haven’t looked as dominant as most people expected them to, but the second period Friday night was Example A of what they can do when they’re really on their game.
-The Catamounts’ top defense pairing of Michael Paliotta and Nick Bruneteau was on the ice for four of Minnesota’s five goals. They were out there for even-strength goals by each of Minnesota’s top three lines, as well as another by the Gophers’ top power-play unit. Needless to say, they’ll have to be a lot better on Saturday. Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon pointed out that those four goals weren’t all on the two defensemen, but he also said there was no denying that they had a tough night.
What I thought
-The Catamounts actually played pretty well in the first and looked as though they were going to make a game of it. Minnesota did have the territorial advantage at times, but the Catamounts did a good job responding and forcing play back the other way. They matched Minnesota hit-for-hit and ended up with a narrow 12-11 shots advantage. They should’ve gone into the intermission tied at one if not for the aforementioned mistake that led to Minnesota’s second goal. The second period was a completely different story, though. Any chance it looked like the Catamounts may have had vanished, as Minnesota dominated the middle frame from start to finish.
-The Catamounts clearly made an effort to be as physical as possible with Bjugstad. While they did manage to win a few battles against him, ultimately the 6-foot-6 power forward won the war. Nick Luukko had a great shift against Bjugstad early in the first, as he knocked him off the puck twice, and Yvan Pattyn landed a big hit that knocked Bjugstad to the ice early in the second. Perhaps out of frustration, Bjugstad wound up taking penalties on both of those shifts. But outside of that, he was around the net creating chances and wreaking havoc all night. He finished with a goal, an assist and a game-high seven shots on goal. Minnesota coach Don Lucia said after the game that Bjugstad had been battling the flu all week, and that he expects Bjugstad to play better on Saturday.
-Seth Ambroz had a great game and was arguably the best player on the ice. He was flying all over the place, and he created a bunch of chances for both himself and his linemates. He ended up with just the one point, but he could’ve easily had a few more — the one that sticks out most was when he made a nice interception and set up A.J. Michaelson for a shot that hit the post. Ambroz also consistently got under the Catamounts’ skin with his peskiness, but he did it without crossing the line and managed to stay out of the box all game.
What they said
-Minnesota coach Don Lucia on having five different goal-scorers: “We had some good looks, especially in the second period. Their goaltender made some real good saves. But that’s where we wanna be, getting different goal-scorers as much as we possibly can. Ambroz started it off. Some of our sophomores have made a step. Michaelson played his best game. That’s the first time we’ve played him at wing, and he played pretty well.”
-Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon: “The first period, we were playing great. Then we make kind of a foolish mistake when the puck was on the back of the net. … We made some foolish mistakes. That’s what I’m trying to get across to our guys. We played a very effective first period. I loved our energy. I thought we created a lot of chances. We played physical. We had like 49 hits in the first period. But we got away from it in the second period. Part of that was they were opportunistic and they did a great job, but we got away from what we did in the first period.”
What else you should know
-Lucia announced before the game that Erik Haula will become the Gophers’ third alternate captain for the remainder of the season. Lucia said after the game that Haula competes harder than anyone both on and off the ice, and that he felt Haula deserves to wear a letter.
-The game drew a sellout crowd of 4,007. There was no student section because of Thanksgiving break, but that end of the arena was opened up to the general public, allowing it to still be filled.
-Vermont and Minnesota conclude their series Saturday night at 7 p.m. Last year in Minnesota, the Catamounts upset the Gophers in the second game after getting blown out in the first.